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Spot On. . . Or Not

Those who know us well would fall off their chairs in a state of hysterical laughter if we purported to be technical experts. But we do know something about SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger units that we’d bet some ocean passage-makers — and some salesmen — don’t know.

Ever since the reasonably priced SPOT devices came out a few years ago we’ve heard great things about them, as their geo-locating ability allows users to regularly alert associates of the user’s location. And thanks to SPOT’s SOS function, a number of customers have been successfully rescued when in life-threatening situations.

Mariners, however, need to beware. SPOT’s website says "SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don’t." But in this case, "virtually" (defined as almost, nearly or effectively) excludes thousands of miles of open ocean, as the coverage map on the site clearly shows.

As this website illustration shows, SPOT devices do not cover all oceans. Marketers might want to edit the phrase: “virtually anywhere in the world.”


Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard asked us to make you aware of this fact, after friends of Pacific Puddle Jumper Michael Rafferty became worried when his daily location messages ceased. As the Coasties suspected, Michael was fine and dandy, happily singlehanding his Islander Freeport 36 Aquila from Mexico to the Marquesas. He made landfall last week at Nuku Hiva after 25 days at sea.

After a long career teaching 14-year-olds, Michael probably loves being way offshore and incommunicado.

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

We don’t know if Michael — who is a lifelong sailor and licensed captain — was aware of his SPOT device’s limitations initially, but we’re sure he is now. And we hope well-meaning SPOT salesmen out there will take note also, before they inadvertently lull other blue water sailors into a false sense of security.


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